The Houston Dynamo began pre-season training this morning at the Carl Lewis track complex on the University of Houston campus. The team will train daily (with Sunday off) leading up the first scrimmage against Houston Baptist University on Saturday, February 5th.
Based on everything we've heard from Chris Canetti and Dominic Kinnear, we can expect some more additions to the roster as the pre-season continues, but for now the Dynamo have 27 players in camp, 25 of whom are under contract. Both the team's supplemental draft picks, Evan Newton and Sergio Castillo will be working to earn spots on the final roster.
After fielding the oldest team in MLS last season, the Dynamo are younger, faster and more athletic and it will be important for the coaching staff to get the new faces integrated over the next month and a half.
The most interesting story going in to the pre-season will be the battle for starting spots on the back line. Hunter Freeman will be challenged by Kofi Sarkodie for the right back spot, while the coaches will decide where to use Andrew Hainault, either next to Bobby Boswell in the central defense or on the left, challenging Mike Chabala for a starting spot. No matter what happens, an improved defense is critical after a disappointing season saw the Dynamo leak goals and make mistakes at key points in matches
Where Hainault fits in depends ultimately on what the coaches decide to do with Geoff Cameron. He played primarily in an attacking midfield role last season, but the debate is still open as to whether to keep him in that role or return him to the central defense. I'll be following the practices and scrimmages throughout the pre-season as we try to get an idea of how Kinnear will lineup his team in 2011.
In addition, for the first time since moving to Houston, someone other than Pat Onstad will be starting in goal for the Dynamo as Tally Hall and Tyler Deric will work to fill the veterans shoes. Both goalkeepers performed well in limited action last season, but based on experience Hall seems the front runner to be the starter come opening day in mid-March.
Personally, I like the uncertainty and the competition that the players will have to deal with. Nobody aside from a couple veterans are guaranteed a starting spot, and after last season's struggles, there is nothing wrong with that. Between the bad taste last year left in the returning player's mouths and the increased competition for starting spots, there is reason to believe 2011 will be a much better season for the Dynamo.
One final bit of news, new midfielder Colin Clark will continue is recovery from ACL surgery. Clark is expected to be a major contributor this season but the team won't rush him back and have limited him to jogging only during the first two weeks of camp.